Long ago, in an ambitious and valuable study, Sidney Painter sought to trace the progress of incomes from the estates of lay baronies between 1086 and 1350. While Painter suggested that some of the nominal growth in baronial incomes he found represented a real increase, especially before 1250, he was astute enough to realise that at least most of the nominal growth had probably arisen from price increases. Since Painter wrote, opinions about the success or otherwise of estate management in outpacing or at least matching rises in prices during the period of the “long thirteenth century” have differed considerably, from the decidedly optimistic to the somewhat pessimistic.
This is certainly an important question. If the fortunes of landlords cannot tell us directly about the fortunes of peasants, they can, in conjunction with a view of the progress of the economy as a whole, throw some light on the relationship between the two groups. Dealing largely with the aggregates of the incomes of entire honours, as Painter did, is a pragmatic and useful approach. However, it does have the disadvantage of conflating two questions: the success or failure of a family or institution in preserving or increasing its estates, and their success or otherwise in preserving or increasing the real profits of individual holdings.